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Jerry_Manuel
12-09-2001, 12:33 AM
Yankees wondering why Jason won't say 'yes'
By Bob Klapisch
Special to ESPN.com
Fresh off a rare trade with the Mets -- and temporarily filling a void at third base -- the Yankees are spending the weekend contemplating a larger and perhaps more disturbing issue:

Why hasn't Jason Giambi accepted their seven-year offer for approximately $122 million?

For now, the Yankees are saying all the right things about moving slowly with Giambi, offering no public hint of their frustration with the free-agent slugger. But the Bombers' decision to complete a trade for Robin Ventura on Friday, sending David Justice to Shea, indicates GM Brian Cashman finally stopped waiting for Giambi to make up his mind.

"We can't let this take forever," said one member of the Yankee organization. Indeed, club officials are quietly looking for alternatives if the unthinkable occurs this week -- if Giambi somehow loses his hunger for the bigger stage, and signs elsewhere. If that were the case, the Yankees would intensify their efforts to sign Moises Alou, and they could very possibly re-sign Tino Martinez.

That option was left open when the Yankees offered Martinez salary arbitration Friday, which means they can continue negotiating with the outgoing first baseman until Dec. 21. It's still a long shot that Martinez will be back in Pinstripes in 2002, but then again, no one thought Giambi would still be waffling this long, either.

What disturbs the Yankees is that Giambi is huddling with his family for the second straight weekend, trying to decide if there are enough perks to pry him away from the A's: there's $18 million a year on the table through 2008, a promise from Joe Torre that he, not rookie Nick Johnson will serve as the full-time first baseman, and a strong chance of going to the World Series next October.

The decision should've been easy for Giambi -- at least if he was as attracted to the Yankee mystique as he claimed to be. Despite reports that he'd finally made his decision, however, the Yankees remain in the dark. They went as far as to issue a denial that any deal was complete, although the majority opinion among members of the front office is that Giambi will ultimately choose the Yankees and make his decision public Tuesday.

In the meantime, the Yankees were close to completing a deal that would've sent Justice to Oakland on Thursday. But before the trade was finalized, the Mets called to say they wanted Justice in exchange for Ventura.

The Yankees quickly said yes, since they desperately needed a stop-gap replacement for the retired Scott Brosius -- at least until rookie Drew Henson is ready. The Yankees were initially thinking of using Enrique Wilson at third base, but they considered Ventura more dependable and likely to rebound from two sub-par years at Shea.

One reason for the Yankees' faith in Ventura -- whose 61 RBI last year were his fewest in a full season since 1990 -- is the short right-field wall in the Stadium, which is 24 feet closer to home plate than at Shea. The Yankees are also convinced Ventura will respond to the team's intensive weightlifting program, which has several fanatical followers, like Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

Conversely, the Mets are sure they can rehabilitate Justice, since as GM Steve Phillips put it, "he has a habit of being on teams that have gone to the postseason."


Interestingly, though, the Mets don't actually have room for Justice -- not with Matt Lawton and Jay Payton already in the outfield. In fact, Phillips made the deal so hastily Thursday night, several members of the organization were unaware of its completion until the next morning.

That led some baseball people to speculate that Justice isn't really in the Mets' plans for next year -- that Phillips acquired him only to include him in a three-way deal that could bring Gary Sheffield to Shea and send Justice to the A's.

"That's the deal that makes more sense," said one baseball executive, who was monitoring the Mets-Yankee deal. Indeed, Justice, at 35 and coming off a season with chronic hamstring troubles, hardly projects to 140-game a year outfielder.

He does seem more compatible with the American League as a designated hitter. That's why the Mets will likely be busy during the winter meetings. If nothing else, they're officially in the hunt for a third baseman, now that Ventura is gone.

Phillips has already spoken to Edgardo Alfonzo about switching to third base, but that would mean finding a second baseman, no small chore. It's improbable the Mets could make a trade for Robby Alomar, and free agent Brett Boone is probably too expensive for them. On top of that, Alfonzo doesn't want to play third.

More likely, the Mets will investigate the possibility of trading for Scott Rolen, even though the Phillies would almost certainly balk at the idea of dealing within the division. Another option is to rely on Desi Relaford and keep the trading chips for a deal for Sheffield.

RedPinStripes
12-09-2001, 12:53 AM
Damn Yanks always have a back up plan. Mets better try to get rid of Justice and not get screwed like they did on Ventura.